Assistance for MSME, start-ups tackled in APEC trade ministers virtual meeting

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By Victoria “NIKE” De Dios

Seeing the impact of coronavirus pandemic to the micro, small and medium enterprises, and start-ups, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez emphasized the need to provide more support and assistance for Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) at the Virtual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Ministers Responsible for Trade (MRT) Meeting last July 25, 2020.

“We should work to provide more support and assistance for our MSMEs, the biggest sector imperiled by the pandemic. They need our support to adapt to new business models and acquire digital tools and skills if they are to survive the crisis,” said Sec. Lopez.

The trade chief cited the Boracay Action Agenda to Globalize MSMEs as APEC’s framework for MSME work in the past five years and called for stronger initiatives that will match APEC Leaders’ Post-2020 Vision, especially one that will support MSMEs through the COVID-19 crisis.

In the APEC region, MSMEs have always played a key role in economic development.  APEC governments have taken several measures to mitigate the economic impact of the current crisis on MSMEs.

To lessen the impact of the pandemic, many APEC economies introduced stimulus packages and backstop measures for MSMEs to access finance.  Liquidity support measures were put in places such as tax-related measures, credit/loan measures, rental/property measures, and other support measures that include subsidies for electricity, water and sewage charges, with the aim of alleviating business disruptions and preserving jobs.

Support for specific sectors such as tourism, land transport, food and beverage, retail, meeting, incentive, convention, and exhibition industry, and arts and culture – which are the hardest hit sectors – are common among APEC economies.

Aside from targeting relief for small businesses and making available a wide range of fiscal and monetary policies, APEC economies have also taken initiatives to promote digital adoption by MSMEs. With the COVID-19 crisis pushing more consumers online, further digital adaptation by MSMEs is necessary.

Many APEC governments have provided their MSMEs more access to digital tools such as enabling or upgrading e-commerce platforms /marketplaces for SMEs.  Some of these tools have businesses-matching features with logistics and delivery services incorporated.  Another practical tool is to provide a local online e-commerce directory to help businesses and the public find trusted providers.  Other measures include providing subsidies to SMEs to acquire digital-marketing instruments and programs to adopt e-invoicing.

“MSMEs are particularly vulnerable to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. That is why targeting economic relief for small businesses is a critical component of the Philippines’ policy interventions, which many APEC economies are also doing and which we will try to match with our resources,” said Sec. Lopez.

“We must sustain the enthusiasm of MSMEs and startups, thus, programs and projects that encourage innovation and commercial activities in the region should be well established. In this trying time, the APEC region needs to work as one,” he added.

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